Disabling hearing loss affects about 360 million people worldwide. Many of these are seniors, but there are approximately 32 million children with severe hearing loss! The World Health Organization (WHO) released a report earlier this year that states that 60% of childhood hearing loss is preventable. The report, Childhood Hearing Loss: Act Now, Here’s How, estimates that 31% of hearing loss in children is caused by infection, 17% by prenatal or birth complications, and the rest from noise levels or medications. These are all preventable! Only about 40% of children have hearing loss caused by genetic factors.
Measles, Mumps and Meningitis: What you need to know.
Measles, Mumps and Meningitis are all infectious diseases that most commonly affect young children.
Measles is a viral respiratory infection that is extremely contagious. Symptoms include a rash which spreads over the entire body, coughing, high temperatures, and eye infections. If left untreated, complications can lead to otitis media, an infection in the middle ear where fluid builds up. This causes temporary hearing loss, and can cause damage to the ear leading to permanent hearing loss.
Mumps is another viral infection with symptoms ranging from flu-like characteristics to fever, earache, and swollen glands.
Meningitis is an inflammation of the meninges, or the membrane that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis is caused by viral, bacterial, or fungal infections. Symptoms are stiff joints, headache, skin rashes, and flu like symptoms such as nausea and high temperature. Serious illness occurs within a few hours of the first signs, often including impaired hearing.
Interestingly, a child with severe hearing loss is five times more likely to contract meningitis. Not only does meningitis cause hearing loss, hearing loss also leaves the child more susceptible to infection in the future. According to a study in Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, the connection between hearing loss and infections is a two way street.
Treatment for Children with Hearing Loss
Children with hearing loss can suffer devastating consequences. They are severely disadvantaged compared to their hearing peers. With impaired hearing, children struggle with language acquisition and social interactions, key aspects of development. Lower academic achievement can lead to life-long struggles. Children are impacted based on the severity of their hearing loss and the age of onset. Perhaps most important is early diagnosis and access to treatment. Treatments include being fitted for hearing devices, working with speech therapists to enhance communication, and joining support groups. Making hearing devices more accessible and affordable would be a huge step in effective treatment of childhood hearing loss. With proper treatment and monitoring, children can continue to develop at the same rate as their hearing classmates, and lead happy, successful lives.
Prevention of Childhood Hearing Loss
The WHO is raising awareness of hearing loss prevention. Since 60% of children with hearing loss suffer from preventable causes of hearing loss, raising awareness and increasing access to information and preventative measures is crucial. Childhood hearing loss caused by infectious diseases can be easily prevented with simple immunization programs for meningitis, mumps and measles. These need to be more widely implemented. Better access to maternal care, regulation of noise levels, and frequent child hearing screening for early identification and intervention could make all the difference in a child’s life.
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